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A favourite Bible passage of many people, especially at weddings, is Paul’s classic statement about love found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

A retired pastor, Brian Black, has summarised the heart of its message in the following poem;

Love exceeds in greatness
all that faith and hope can be;
it’s patient, kind, delights in truth,
it serves unselfishly;
it envies not and does not boast,
it loves the enemy;
it is not proud nor is it rude;
its mark? Humility!

Love exceeds in greatness
all that faith and hope can be;
it trusts, protects, and perseveres
and hopes continually;
the love God gives will never fail-
it lasts eternally-
for love exceeds in greatness all
that faith and hope can be.

The word used by Paul, following his Lord and Master was a new word for love. Agape was different from the other Greek words available to him. Paul could have used the words eros, storge or philos. Erotic love, family love or brotherly affection all have their place but none could adequately be pressed into service to describe the kind of love God has shown to sinners. His love was not what we deserve, we were not worthy nor welcoming of His kindness in sending His only Son to die in our place upon the cross.

So the response required of men and women to His love is both faith and trust in Jesus and sacrificial love toward others. We are to try, with the help of His Holy Spirit, to love others, no matter who they are, how they may have treated us, whether they are attractive or unresponsive to us. This is a big call but is full of extraordinary blessings for all who respond and seek to love as we have been loved.

It is this self giving love that asks for and expects no reward, that takes the initiative toward friends and enemies alike, that refuses to give up on others and delights in truth that can transform us and others around us.

Paul’s fellow apostle Johns summed up both the character and consequences of such love in two memorable statements in his first letter. They are worth pondering:
“this is how we know what love is : Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our life for others.” (3: 16) and “this is love : not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (4: 10).

This love experienced and practiced will tame eros, shape family love and keep selfishness out of brotherly affection.